The Articles of Association: Liberty through Economic Independence

Today’s post comes from Alley Marie Jordan, graduate research intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, D.C.

In celebration of the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary this year, the National Archives is exhibiting a seminal document on American political and economic liberties: the 1774 Articles of Association.

The Articles of Association, written by the First Continental Congress, addressed economic grievances imposed on the colonies. They asserted non-importation and non-exportation sanctions on Great Britain, Ireland, and the East Indies in reaction to the British Crown’s infamous 1774 Intolerable Acts.

The able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught. Illustrates the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party-—the Boston Port Bill and the closing of the port. Copy of engraving by Paul Revere, June 1774. (National Archives Identifier 535722)

“The able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught” illustrates the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party—the Boston Port Act and the closing of the port. Copy of engraving by Paul Revere, June 1774. (National Archives Identifier 535722)

In 1773, the Sons of Liberty, a secret society of American rebels, dumped a shipload of tea into the Boston Harbor, protesting “taxation without representation.”

The following year, two years before the start of the American Revolution, the British Crown responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing what the American Patriots called the Intolerable Acts.

The Intolerable Acts were a series of four legislative acts imposed by Great Britain on the colonies in order to punish them and to quell the rising rebellion.

The acts were composed of

  • The Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston
  • The Massachusetts Government Act, which required that all Massachusetts government positions be appointed by either the Crown itself, the Governor, or Parliament
  • The Administration of Justice Act, which asserted that trials against officials of the Crown were to take place in Great Britain and not in Massachusetts if the Crown believed Massachusetts incapable of executing a fair trial
  • The Quartering Act, which allowed Royal soldiers to be housed in unoccupied buildings

 

Articles of Association,  page 1, 10/20/1774.  National Archives Identifier 6277397)

Articles of Association, page 1, 10/20/1774. National Archives Identifier 6277397)

The Articles of Association asserted that, in order to free themselves economically from Great Britain, the colonies will “encourage frugality, economy, and industry, and promote agriculture, arts and the manufactures of this country.”

The writers of the Articles of Association viewed Great Britain’s authority as tyrannical and understood that they needed to control and use their own resources to survive without Great Britain.

Furthermore, America’s economic independence would then lead to its political independence.

The Articles of Association, which later inspired the 1776 Declaration of Independence, is a significant document because it established the colonies’ recognition of their own economic disenfranchisement under the authority of England.

Moreover, the Articles established the colonists’ want and need for economic independence. Even before the Declaration of Independence, the Americans were preparing themselves for a break with Great Britain.

Articles of Association, signature page, 10/20/1774. National Archives Identifier 6277397)

 

The 11th Article asserted that “all such foes to the rights of British-America may be publicly known, and universally condemned as the enemies of American liberty; and thenceforth we respectively will break off all dealings with him or her.”

The early Americans’ sense of liberty and loyalty to economic freedom became manifest in this document.

For early Americans, as for contemporary ones, economic freedom and personal liberty were one in the same. The freedom to own one’s property and to use it in the best way one sees fit was an essential tenet of the Founders’ philosophy. For the Founders, the inability to control one’s economy and economic status led to the inability to control one’s political life.

The rarely viewed Articles of Association will be on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from June 4 through July 29, 2015.

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